Frank Turner: The national treasure a decade in the making

Frank Turner Live

2015 saw the release of Frank Turner's sixth studio album and Vincent Ralph spoke to him at both ends of his UK tour.

In an era when so many famous musicians are seemingly inaccessible, Frank Turner is the refreshing exception to the rule.

On the day his latest album, Positive Songs for Negative People, was released in the UK, he performed an intimate solo gig followed by a meet-and-greet at HMV’s Oxford Street store to kick off what would be a very busy few months.

As we stood in a line that soon stretched long past the company’s flagship store passers-by regularly asked who we were waiting for, and it was both frustrating and apt that many of the commuters and shoppers looked confused when we mentioned Frank’s name.

After all he is no longer a well-kept secret, filling venues everywhere in his relentless efforts to bring his music to fans across the globe. And yet he is still a mystery to many; a man who deserves far more recognition from the world at large.

In short, Turner is one of the UK’s best musicians, which makes his humility all the more admirable.

Back in August 2015 he played in front of around 100 lucky fans, showcasing new material as well as playing an old favourite, and it was clear he was back doing what he does best.

After acoustic performances of Get Better, The Next Storm, Glorious You, Mittens and I Still Believe, Turner took the time to speak to every single person in attendance, dishing out hugs and signing personalised messages on the album that may well be his best to date.

In late November he would end his UK tour with a superb show at London’s Alexandra Palace, but when we first spoke that was more than three months away.

So many of your songs are about seizing the day; is there anything you are yet to do that you cannot envisage leaving this earth without achieving?

I don't think I have much choice over when my time comes up, so that's a difficult question. I'd like to go to South America. I'd like to fall in love properly. But whether or not I make it through today remains to be seen.

When I listen to Song for Josh I cannot help comparing it to Long Live the Queen in the sense that they are both about dear friends of yours that have passed away and yet they are markedly different for obvious reasons. How did you approach the writing of those two songs in particular; were they harder or easier to write due to the feelings attached to them?

They were about very different people, different situations, and indeed at different times in my life. Song for Josh was, in a way, a more collective process; I was fortunate enough to be on tour with Lucero, mutual friends of Josh, when the news came through, and the lyrics from the song arose from late night conversations about our loss.

Long Live the Queen was a more solitary affair, I wrote the words in one sitting on Montmartre in Paris. I wouldn't describe either song as ‘easy’ to write really.

As you stare down the barrel of your fourth decade – as you say on Love Forty Down – what is the defining moment in each of the first three decades of your life?

Ha. Birth; Iron Maiden; picking up an acoustic guitar.

Where do you feel producer Butch Walker’s influence is most evident on this album?

It is in the overall vibe and sound, the feeling of the album. He brought the atmosphere.

You’ve said part of you wishes Walker had worked on all your albums; do you plan on continuing this working relationship in the future?

I'm slightly hesitant about that statement, as I don't want to do down any of the people I've worked with in the past. But I very much hope we will continue to work together in the future.

Do you still think Amelie lied to you?

Haha, maybe. It's a good film.

I know you spend the vast majority of your life on the road but how are you feeling as you head out on the first tour for Positive Songs for Negative People?

Good, I've been off the road more than on lately, and I don't feel comfortable with that.

~

That was not something Turner had to worry about for much longer, as he embarked on a tour that took in venues across the UK before he headed first to Germany, then Holland, France, Canada and the USA.

Another stint in the UK ended with that memorable night at Alexandra Palace but by then live music and everything it stood for had been threatened following the attacks in Paris.

However, one song in particular during that final show spoke volumes about Turner, his fans and the power of performance as the entire venue was enveloped by phone lights to create an unforgettable image.

During your gig at Alexandra Palace there was an unforgettable moment when you played Demons in memory of Nick Alexander. As you sang you seemed to be genuinely taken aback by the response of the crowd. How did you feel staring out at that view captured perfectly by Ben Morse?

That was a really moving moment for me. Most of my show is prepared and planned in advance - the songs, the setlist and so on - so it's great to get a rare moment of spontaneity.

It was also touching because I'd been trying to figure out how I, as a performer, respond to the Bataclan attacks and Nick's death. It was simply lovely that everyone got involved.

You recently hinted on Twitter that you were writing new material and that the Sleeping Souls should brace themselves. What should they brace themselves for?

I write the songs on my own but we collectively work on the arrangements. I have some new ideas; I can't say more than that.

Back in August, when I asked what was your favourite song from the new album to play live, you said Get Better because of the reaction it brings out in people; is that still the case?

The Next Storm really came into its own on the road I thought. But I've been pleasantly surprised by the reception of pretty much all the new stuff. Song for Josh has been a powerful moment in the set when I throw it in.

Your European tour kicks off shortly before further dates in Canada and the USA. Are there any venues you are particularly excited to play in the months ahead?

The Palladium in Cologne will be my biggest ever continental headline show. That will be a special night. But it's more about the people than the building, for me.

2015 was a huge year for you. What can fans expect from you in 2016 and do you have any specific aims for the year ahead?

I'll be on tour for Positive Songs all year all over the world and there is a new EP coming soon, too.

~

One thing is for certain, the music will keep coming, as will the shows, and for that we should all be grateful.

Frank Turner is truly a national treasure, and as his output grows expect more of that nation to stand up and take notice.